Upon taking the N-Back Challenge, you commit to playing a session of dual n-back every day for 20 days. Whenever you delay a session, we ask you to support us with an (in-app) cup of coffee. Being accustomed to free apps, you might be wondering why. In short: It helps us stay independent and protects the integrity of our educational mission, in a way that is simultaneously designed to help you actually complete the Challenge — and raise your IQ — successfully.
How NOT to Monetize an N-Back App
We are a small independent company that deliberately eschews institutional funding to protect the integrity of our educational mission. Indeed, any investor in our company must sign an agreement that stipulates the primacy of educational impact over financial considerations.
The drawback of this approach is that, unlike startups with large war chests from venture capitalists, we cannot afford to scale loss-making apps. Though we are quite frugal, we do need to ensure that we earn at least some revenues from the N-Back Challenge to cover our costs.
One obvious way to earn revenues from a mobile app is to charge for downloads. This is a non-starter for us, because it would discourage many people from trying out the N-Back Challenge in the first place, and thus greatly limit our educational impact.
Another common way to earn revenues for an app like ours would be to insert so-called interstitial ads: Between each round of dual n-back, you would be shown a full-screen ad that urges you to download another app — say, a mobile game. Such an approach would not only offend our sense of aesthetics, but it would also make us uncomfortable in terms of potentially compromising the effectiveness of the training program. It would surely be distracting to watch ads while you’re in the middle of your daily session. And certainly no ads were shown to participants in the scientific studies of dual n-back. (In designing the N-Back Challenge, we took pains to stick as closely as practical to the design of the scientific studies, thus maximizing the likelihood that you will indeed reap the scientifically established cognitive benefits.)
Fostering Commitment and Habit Formation
Instead, we came up with an approach that builds on our mutual interest in helping you get the most educational impact from our app. What is, in the end, the main obstacle that may prevent you from experiencing a rising IQ from dual n-back? It’s that you might give up before having completed 20 sessions! Indeed, dual n-back is an exceedingly tough exercise. By design, it maximizes the cognitive load on your working memory at every moment. So it requires a lot of commitment to complete the program successfully.
This is why we’ve designed our app around a Challenge, and, inspired by ingenious contraptions such as the “money-shredding alarm clock”, tie a monetary incentive to successful adherence. It’s a way for us to nudge you toward making a true commitment to dual n-back training. What’s more, by enforcing a strictly daily regimen, with penalties for any delays, we help you form a habit as quickly as possible. As social psychologist Roy Baumeister points out in his extensive research on willpower, it’s much more effective, in pursuing a difficult goal, to rely on habit formation than on sheer willpower to carry you to the finish line.
As long as you stick to the program, the app will be free. If and when you do end up delaying a session, we will ask you to support our team with a “coffee,” which will keep our developers going through their late-night coding sessions. We are pretty scrappy, so a cheap coffee will do. In fact, the amount we’re asking for represents only about one-fifth of a Starbucks Venti Mocha Frappuccino. And they get even cheaper if you buy a package! Note that, if a single delay ends up stretching over multiple days, we’ll still ask you for a single cup of coffee only. And note that you can earn free coffees by using the Share feature in the Settings to recommend the N-Back Challenge to your friends and family. (Your friends and family will each earn a free coffee as well.) That is, by sharing the app — and its associated cognitive benefits — with others, you will be able to take multiple breaks during your Challenge without ever having to pay.
The most important thing, we should point out, is that you do eventually finish the Challenge. It’s fine if it takes you longer than 20 days to complete your 20 sessions. (Research on distributed practice suggests that spacing out your n-back sessions may even be beneficial.) Just don’t give up!
What if I’m Too Busy?
While we do recommend that you complete the default 20-Day Challenge, as it approximates the design of the scientific studies, it’s possible that your schedule is simply too busy and you don’t have 20 minutes to spare every day. If so, we recommend that you switch to the Weekly Habit instead: It challenges you to complete just one session per week, an implied time commitment of merely 2-3 minutes per day.
In the Weekly Habit, you are free to complete the 12 individual rounds that constitute each session at any moment during the week. You could finish them all in one swoop on the weekend, for example, or you could spread out the work over multiple days. We strongly urge you to do the latter and play at least one round every day, thus establishing a solid n-back habit that will make it much more likely for you to actually complete 20 sessions in total. To provide encouragement for this habit, our app comes with a “streaks” feature which tracks how many days you manage to play at least one round of n-back in a row.
Finally, if you prefer not having to worry about delays at all, then maybe you would be up for inviting our team to a yummy pizza? (We are painfully aware that we are violating our own dietary guidance here.) This one-time purchase will unlock unlimited free breaks for you, and you can complete 20 (or, ideally, more) sessions of dual n-back entirely at your own pace!